At around this time last year, I wrote a piece (see here) entitled “Gambling industry hit by tsunami!”. I’ve now exhausted my lexicon of catastrophe metaphors but, after Tuesday’s Gambling Commission Raising Standards conference, maybe I should say that the industry is drinking in the last chance saloon.

The tone was set by the introduction from the chair of the Gambling Commission, Bill Noyes, when he said, in relation to problem gambling, “I don’t think the industry gets it”. He said that he and Sarah Harrison, the Gambling Commission’s chief executive, have held meetings with many senior executives and have also reviewed annual assurance statements and all of these say the right thing but are not borne out by the reality. His conclusion was that there are insufficient procedures in place and the right messages are not being communicated to front line staff.

He then talked about the national strategy to reduce gambling-related harm developed by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board which covers the three years to 2018/19 and said that progress towards the priority actions set out in that strategy has been very poor.

He followed this by pointing out that the voluntary contributions received by GambleAware from the industry were 60% short of the indicative target of 0.1% of GGY and raised the issue of whether it was time for the levy to be put on a statutory footing.

He ended his speech (a copy of which is here) by saying that “the industry is approaching a tipping point. Public concern about gambling is increasing – about the scale of problem gambling, about advertising, about the potential impact on children and the vulnerable.

My remarks today are a call to action. The industry can be seen as beyond redemption and requiring tough action to tackle its worst excesses. Or it can be seen as a responsible part of the entertainment industry, which acknowledges that it has the capacity to cause harm and demonstrates a real willingness to invest in improvement, in prevention and in treatment.

Sarah Harrison then spoke and continued in a similar vein setting out the key elements of the Commission’s new three year strategy (see here)

She made it clear that the Commission is ready to intervene to raise standards “including on a precautionary basis”, and sounded a particular warning to online casinos by stating “our focus is a consumer protection focus, and our standards reflect this. Online casino providers need to wake up to this fast. Our work shows your due diligence and consumer protections are not up to scratch. We will intervene and you should consider yourselves warned.

The bar has been set too low by operators in relation to identifying customers at risk and treating them fairly. The strategy makes clear that change is now coming. Fairness, transparency, and harm prevention are essential. Unreasonable behaviour and slow progress will not be accepted …”

Ms Harrison also referred to the CMA investigation about which I have written separately here and to the industry’s “lamentable” record on unsolicited and spam marketing.

I ended my piece last year by saying that the industry was facing “a perfect storm of a relatively new chief executive of the Gambling Commission determined to make her mark and a new Government which appears to be significantly less favourably inclined to the gambling industry than any in recent memory and significantly more prepared to intervene in the market.

You have been warned!

I can only re-emphasise those comments and encourage you to read Sarah Harrison’s speech (see here) but think it is worth noting one particularly ominous extract towards the end of her address where she says: “we are at a tipping point, those that do not share this commitment, those who do not deliver for the consumer will find themselves in an uncomfortable position with their future in the industry increasingly in peril.